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Umesh Modi is a chartered accountant, and Pamini Jatheeskumar is a chartered certified accountant at Silver Levene...
  Don Lavoie is alcohol programme manager at Public Health England and Gul Root is lead...
Don Lavoie is alcohol programme manager at Public Health England and Gul Root is lead pharmacist, Health and Wellbeing Directorate, Public Health England
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a pharmacist woman consultationMarch 12 2018

One in five people think they or their family may be financially affected by plans to restrict 3,200 over the counter medicines being available on NHS prescription. Patients have also raised concerns that inconsistent application of the policy, could actually increase pressure on GPs.

The comments have been raised by Healthwatch, in its response to the government consultation on restricting what can be prescribed on the NHS. The patient-representative organisation asked for views from Healthwatch members and the general public on NHS England’s programme of cutting prescription spend to save £141 million a year.

Healthwatch found that of those respondents who thought they would be financially affected if they had to buy OTC medicines, two-thirds identified as being on a low income. A further 37% thought their wider community would be financially affected.

The draft guidelines will not ban outright the prescribing of OTC products, but will allow GPs to take a patient’s ‘social factors’ into account when prescribing. “However, resources are stretched and GPs have limited time to spend with their patients,” said Healthwatch.

“They may not be in the best position to assess a patient’s social circumstances and ability to afford over the counter products. Putting the burden of this decision on already stretched GPs could lead to inconsistencies in the treatment people receive across the country.”

Other feedback from patients includes concerns that while the prescribing budget is being restricted, many people are unaware of what the NHS is doing specifically to save costs elsewhere. “If the NHS is asking people to pay more for their medications then they expect to see the NHS doing its part to reduce waste,” said Healthwatch.

It is therefore calling on NHS England “to provide a more accurate view of the potential savings and to be clearer about who would be affected and the impact these changes will have.”

Other changes to the guidelines Healthwatch is calling for for include:

  • there needs to be a revised assessment of how much could be saved with these changes, taking into account any exemptions where people will still be able to get these products on prescription;
  • better communicating what measures the NHS is taking to do its part by being more efficient when purchasing and managing use of medication;
  • giving doctors clear guidance that a patient’s financial position is included in the list of ‘social factors’ they can take into account when prescribing.

Links:
Healthwatch announcement    
Healthwatch. ‘What do people think about NHS prescriptions? Our response to NHS England’s consultation’. March 2018            

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